Each spring, thousands of University of North Texas students earn their degrees and become UNT alumni. Every one of them should be tremendously proud of everything they've accomplished in their time in Denton. In celebration of our Spring 2020 graduates, below are the stories of only six of CVAD students who overcame adversity and achieved great things on their way to becoming this semester's Great Grads.
Juan Barroso | Studio Art: Ceramics
Juan Barroso’s ceramics and paintings pay tribute to would-be migrants and immigrants, like Juan’s family members who have become American citizens.
“My work is about Mexican labor and what an immigrant does to survive. With the current political administration in America enforcing immigration policies that dehumanize and force immigrants into the shadows, recognizing an immigrant’s humanity is vital,” says Juan. “I hope my art honors my people and the dignity with which they work to make a living.”
Already an accomplished artist and teaching assistant, Juan hopes to become a ceramics professor and inspire others as he has been inspired by the faculty and staff of UNT’s College of Visual Arts and Design.
“My professor, Brooks Oliver, has had the greatest impact on my experience here at UNT,” says Juan. “Thanks to him, I know why I choose clay, paint with dots, paint in black and white and paint images of immigrant labor. In his class, I found purpose and the source of my happiness.”
Juan’s passion for his art and his heritage is apparent in works like his clay vase Honoring Textile Labor, inspired by memories of his mother sewing, embroidering, repairing and selling clothes. He created the delicate image of a seamstress’s hands feeding cloth through a sewing machine by applying thousands of tiny black dots to the vase’s white surface. Juan says that the dots reflect the thousands of stitches his mother sewed to help provide for her family.
Juan’s art also gives a voice to the millions of Latinos who risk their lives to come to the United States where they hope to find refuge from poverty and violence. Razor Wire at the Border, a painting of the concertina wire that twists across the tops of border fences and No More Caged Children, a black and white portrait of a huddled, frightened child behind a chain-link fence serve as cruel reminders of the ways many hopeful migrant journeys end.
“It is important for me to be a part of a Latino community and one of the reasons I chose to pursue my MFA in ceramics at UNT is because of the university’s ethnic diversity,” says Juan. “In my time here, I have felt accepted and respected by all of my peers and professors. It feels like being a part of a family.”
Family is important to Juan who credits his father as the main reason he works with clay.
“My father’s name is Serafin Barroso and it means ‘filled with clay,’” says Juan. “For a time, the mud on my father’s clothes was a source of shame, a sign of poverty. There’s irony in taking the mundane material that was once an embarrassment and transforming it into a fragile, permanent and valuable record of our labor.”
Virginia Cook: Art History
As a high school student, Virginia Cook was inspired by her art teacher and mentor Mrs. Freeman—a UNT alumna—to pursue a bachelor’s degree in Art History at the University of North Texas. After researching the Art History program, Virginia knew it was the right school for her.
Due to financial restrictions, she wasn’t able to attend UNT as a freshman, but after transferring in 2015, Virginia earned her Bachelor of Arts in Art History. And she’ll graduate this May with her M.A, also in Art History.
The Multicultural Center in the Union has been one of the highlights of her UNT experience. “I think it’s a hugely important resource and support structure to UNT students,” says Virginia. “It’s a space that always felt so accepting to me.” The art collection at the MC is just a bonus that continues to inspire Virginia as an art historian.
This semester has had its ups and downs, but Virginia continues to tackle each one with grace and a positive attitude. “I could not have gotten this far without my professors. Jennifer Way, Nada Shabout and Laura Evans have all made a huge impact on my life in different ways,” says Virginia. “Unfortunately, with the recent global pandemic, I hit a few curbs in the progress of my thesis.”
She has been working on her thesis non-stop for the past year. Her biggest help? The research library and Rebecca Barham, UNT’s Art, Dance and Theatre reference librarian. Barham taught Cook how to do effective research at the library and online. A huge part of Virginia’s thesis—an analysis of the Spanish institute Casa Árabe and its Mudéjar architecture—was dependent on contacts who live in Spain. “I love ancient Spanish and Islamic architectural design elements.”
Due to the strict lockdown in Spain, Virginia bumped into unexpected challenges as she finalized her thesis, being unable to gain access to resources and documents she expected for her research. With the help of Professor Shabout’s contacts in Spain, Virginia was able to write her thesis by accessing online texts.
After graduation, Virginia endeavors to become a McDermott intern at the Dallas Museum of Art. “I want to make a difference in our local community. The opportunity to be a part of the DMA team would be invaluable to my growth as an art educator and historian.”
Update — May 9, 2020: Virginia was awarded the 2020-2021 McDermott Internship for Interpretation, a nationally competitive placement, to assist with the production and evaluation of interpretive materials in the Dallas Museum of Art galleries and the Center for Creative Connections!
Jenna Critchlow | Design: Fashion Design
Since zipping through projects in her sixth-grade home economics class, Jenna Critchlow has had a knack for sewing.
It wasn’t long before she was crafting her own designs — usually princess or other storybook character costumes with a touch of her personal flair.
It probably helped that her maternal grandma was pretty handy with a needle and thread, too.
“I grew up around her creativity — making me custom Barbie clothes, knitting and crocheting — and it really helped spark my interest in sewing, too,” Jenna says.
This month, she’ll be graduating with a bachelor’s of fine arts degree in fashion design — her second bachelor’s degree from UNT.
Jenna first studied drawing and painting in the College of Visual Arts and Design as an Emerald Eagle Scholar. She loved Denton so much, she was in no hurry to leave. She worked as a staff member in a few different departments on campus, including serving as an administrative coordinator for CVAD’s design department.
“That’s what pushed me toward getting another degree — all the fashion kids were coming in and registering for classes, and I was like, ‘That looks like something I should do,’” Jenna says.
That decision was a turning point for Jenna. As she worked through her fashion design classes, she realized that she could turn her love of sewing into a career.
She’s not one to cut corners in her designs. As a self-described contemporary sportswear designer, Jenna has a keen eye for original textiles and has been known to hand-dye her own fabric or create a custom pattern using laser etching and cutting in the CVAD FabLab.
With much of the campus closed during the pandemic, Jenna had to rework her senior clothing collection since she would no longer have access to the laser equipment.
“I think the biggest challenge for me was reimagining those textiles and realizing that it wasn’t going to be the same design that I wanted it to be,” Jenna says. “It’s a good challenge to overcome because when you’re in the workplace you might have to adapt when your original idea isn’t possible.”
Jenna has already founded her own label, Jkaye Creations, which blends art, craft and design and follows the motto of “keeping the art in Earth.” She hopes to grow that business and also land a job on a design team in the Dallas-Fort Worth area where she can focus on the technical drawing side of product development.
At UNT, she’s learned to be open to new ideas and to not be afraid to push boundaries.
Jeremy Diamond | Studio Art: Metalsmithing and Jewelry
Jeremy Diamond’s path, from a community college freshman majoring in biology to a UNT senior graduating with a B.F.A. in studio art and specializing in metalsmithing, followed a progression as natural as the art he creates.
It all started with a couple of things that didn’t happen.
“Biology didn’t happen because, honestly, I am terrible at math,” says Jeremy. “One of my instructors suggested I try to find something I enjoyed or wanted to try. Drawing and painting has always been something I liked doing so I thought art might be the answer.”
But, Jeremy wondered at the time, what kind of art? Would it be drawing and painting? Or something else? He says he decided to take a ceramics class because it was something he’d always wanted to try. But that didn’t happen, either. He was too late and all the ceramics classes that he wanted were full. So he took metalsmithing instead.
“I never really thought of metalsmithing as a form of art,” says Jeremy. “But, as soon as I tried it, it clicked. It was what I wanted to do. In fact, it was the best thing I had ever done.”
Jeremy was hooked, but the number of metalsmithing classes at the community college was limited, so he realized he needed a school that could offer more. Fortunately, it turned out that his metalsmithing instructor, Wynona Alexander, was also a UNT alumna.
“She pointed me to UNT’s studio art program and it really appealed to me,” says Jeremy. “Studio art is for people who want to make art for art’s sake, and that’s me.”
As Jeremy has honed his artistic talents, he has been particularly inspired by nature and natural themes, which is reflected in his work. He explains there is something very fundamental and complex about the world that he wants to capture in his art. He sees the relationships in nature played out in the relationships between people over and over again.
“Natural imagery has always been an important part of my work,” says Jeremy. “How we interact with things we see really says a lot about a person, and with nature, I believe people don’t have to force it. They just see what is there.”
As a member of UNT’s metalsmithing club, Jeremy has been able to display and sell his works at various art shows in the area. He says his favorite piece so far is Graellsia. It can be seen, along with some of his other work on his website.
After graduation, Jeremy will attend the Master of Fine Arts program at the University of Georgia in Athens. He says he hopes to one day teach studio arts to college students and that it “clicks” for them too.
Meah Lin | Design: Communication Design — Graphic Design Track
If Meah Lin could give incoming freshmen one piece of advice, she’d keep it simple: it will be okay.
Coming from Tyler, Texas, by way of Hsin-Chu, Taiwan, Meah wasn’t sure what to expect from her first year at UNT. “I was worried about so many things as a freshman,” says Meah. “But I was also excited about trying a new experience.”
She chose to attend UNT at the suggestion of her high school art teacher and mentor. “He recommended I look into UNT's art and design programs because they’ve been reputable and established since he was in college. I toured the campus and decided that this would be my place.”
Meah will graduate in May with a Bachelor of Fine Arts in Communication Design and a minor in art history. She plans to work as a graphic designer and take a deeper dive into the fields of user experience design and motion graphics. “Some of my dream projects include working on a title sequence for a great show, collaborating with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and successfully hosting a podcast,” says Meah. “I also enjoy helping others. I know at some point I’d like to pursue a master’s degree, which will allow me to teach design and art."
Part of her interest in teaching can be attributed to the exceptional faculty in the College of Visual Arts and Design. “I’ve been lucky to have so many great professors, one of them being David Wolske,” says Meah. “He taught me Type in Motion and Cause-based Design, but I also consulted him for several projects even when I was not in his class.”
Despite enjoying her coursework and being inspired by her professors, Meah's growing mental health struggles became exceedingly overwhelming. When they began to take a toll on her overall well-being, she sought help from the counselors at UNT’s S.U.R.E. Center. “Tim Trail really helped me to work through issues my family and I were struggling with, as well as my anxiety and stress,” says Meah. “He believed that everyone should have the chance to feel better, and he would spend his personal time helping people who wanted to talk to him. I will always keep the wisdom he taught me in mind.”
Meah also found comfort in the friendships she made while serving as the historian, secretary and marketing chair of World Echoes, a multi-cultural student organization that hosts events to strengthen friendships among different cultures. “The diversity of cultures is what I love most about UNT,” says Meah. “I met friends from all over the globe through experiences like Cultural Night, Global EncoUNTer, and Cooking and Tasting.”
UNT’s art and design programs were what originally drew Meah to campus, but the community made it feel like home. For all the freshmen feeling worried, anxious or simply unsure about the road ahead, Meah gets it—but it really will be okay. “Try to be open to new experiences. Ask for help when you need it. And most importantly, take good care of yourself.”
Meah’s taking her own advice and doing her best to keep COVID-19 from overshadowing her senior year. “It’s certainly a very different picture than what I imagined my last semester would be. I didn’t realize how much being around my friends and professors meant to me until I could no longer do it. Chit-chatting in the hallway, stopping by my professors' offices to say hi, getting dinner on Fry Street after working on projects for hours—those little things helped me stay upbeat and ready for the next challenge.”
But she’s setting aside time to stay connected and enjoy the little things, even if it’s just a funny meme or a video from a friend. “I’m also working on a yearbook for my class of graduates in my major,” says Meah. “There are exactly 40 of us, so it's manageable. It’s my way of celebrating the memories we made as a class before the outbreak. It’s heading to the printer soon, and I can’t wait to see how it turns out.”
Noura Shuqair | Art Education
Noura Shuqair thought she knew most everything about art in Saudi Arabia and the Middle East – after all, she grew up immersed in Saudi Arabia’s capital of Riyadh.
After taking UNT professor Nada Shabout’s art history class, Noura realized she had taken for granted many aspects of her own culture and was inspired to research and write about contemporary art in Saudi Arabia.
“Professor Shabout makes us think critically. An art historian’s job is something most people underestimate. You become a detective because you have to search for the facts. You have to learn about the politics of that area, as well as its economy and culture in order to understand the art in the bigger picture,” says Noura, who will earn her Ph.D. in art education this spring.
As an artist, Noura has found joy in a variety of mediums from painting and drawing to mixed media. At UNT, she’s brought more technology into her art, using machines such as the laser cutter or 3D printer at the CVAD FabLab.
“My work involves the contradiction in my identity. I’m torn between two different worlds – America and Saudi Arabia,” Noura says.
She chose UNT for her doctoral education so she could take studio classes and conduct arts-based research for a creative dissertation.
To say that Noura has enjoyed classes at UNT would be an understatement. On numerous occasions, she’s audited classes, sitting in and observing them for no credit, learning something new each time. After she successfully defended her dissertation, she went straight to one of Shabout’s classes to observe. She’s audited other classes in the art education and art history department as well.
“When I see that my professors are accomplished and how they are so well-known in the world, I feel proud that they are my mentors. I know I’m in good hands,” Noura says.
In the fall, Noura will become a mentor to the next generation, beginning her journey as an assistant professor at King Saud University in Riyadh, Saudi Arabia.